There is a shift in life. That magical point in your life when you have been lucky enough to live long enough to reflect back and see that while you have spent all of your life thus far in the ascending, accumulating role, life is now going to ask something else from you...
From birth until about 50, you are in acquire mode. Acquire skills, education, jobs, careers, things, people, money, kids. And then by about 50, you are done with all of that. Maybe not completely done, but the time spent doing all of that acquiring has begun to cease...for some of us quite dramatically. For others, it is more of a slow decline.
It is like we stand at 50 on life’s mountain top, we are poised to view the front face which we have spent all of our lives climbing, and now rest at the apex for a few beats and are given the opportunity to pause and reflect. Some of us try to climb back down the austere facing climb. Most of us find it doesn’t work all that well. What was climbable on ascent is in fact quite treacherous to double back upon. And while some make a little headway, truth is you really cannot climb very far or well back down life’s forward facing slope.
For those of us who have crested the apex, we marvel at all we accomplished, those crevasses explored, the sheer rock walls we ascended without a net or rope. Much of the first part of your life is really all just a free climb. Perhaps some of us have a net in the form of family or money, but for many, many people, life is a free climb from the word go.
I think that being in your fifties is a lot like being a teen again. Your hormones rage although not quite in the same way. You are kind of done with all that work business and seeing the downward slope, you find that there are other things in life that rank far more important than the quest for money and things. You want to get laid as often as possible, though now it is not because of the fresh newness of the experience, no, now it is fueled by the fear that one day in the not so distant future, your libido and attractiveness are going to take a hit from which they will never recover, so you better get as much as you can for as long as you can.
I have found that fifty ushered in a complete re-evaluation of all that I held near and dear. This would include a great many relationships, a career that I thought I loved but found out that I just really didn’t. I realized that while I don’t mind hard work, I do mind working hard for people who do not appreciate my efforts, take them for granted and are pretty abusive in the process. This would be a recurrent theme in my life that I have just begun to address. Please know, it is not the “them” I blame, no, the accountability for my displeasure with all of that rests solely on my side of the street. I have taught people to treat as if I didn’t matter for fucking ever. And have only in the last year, begun to take back my life from those people who do not get, perhaps don’t even like me and are more than happy to take full advantage of my lack of self respect. It has been a hard year on that front.
But not unlike my teen counterparts, I have this absolute certainty that I know what I am doing coupled with a great deal of proof to the contrary. It is hard. And it makes me have some well needed compassion for the teens in my own home that I love and am privileged to raise. It is hard for all of us and that is likely because we all think that we know better and way more than we actually do.
So for me anyway, fifty has brought a summit camp on the mountain top of my life and I have been loathe to begin the descent. I am pretty sure the joke is on me...because I think that the descent begins whether you are ready or not, or whether you are even aware as to whether you are traversing the long downward slope.
So I return to the blog’s title - the purpose of middle age. I think it is our last gasp at appreciating and experiencing the joys from the front side of life. We date, we fuck, we shop and travel, we do all kinds of things from our youth like attend concerts and festivals, we work out and diet and get plastic surgery because there is this force deep within us that causes us to think that we might just cheat death yet. And even though we know our time will come, as all time does, we kid ourselves about this middle time in life, that somehow we might just carve out a different path for ourselves.
Please do not get me wrong, I think this is what we are supposed to do. Leave that marriage that sucks, get those kids out onto their own, take back our life that we turned over almost without our knowledge and consent in the pursuit of money, and prestige and things. While this not may be everyone’s experience, I think in America, it really is the norm. Then we are blessed with waking up in the middle of our lives and find ourselves again. I would argue that if we are treating life correctly, we see the whole of our lives as one ongoing long lesson of learning to love ourselves and others more fully, completely and with less strings.
I for one am in great favor and with quite a bit of pleasure in this middle ground upon which I stand. I know who I am more than I ever have, I like myself most of the time, I am less self obsessed than I used to be, I have enough of everything in my life and am really putting in the time to more accurately assess why I continue to buy shit that I really do not need. It is liberating and fun and also, at the very same time, it is hard to be taught new ways and means to let go.
So the purpose of middle age might just be a refresher course in that which we should have learned a long time ago, life’s whole purpose is to love. And middle age is just another moment to learn to let go of all that you think, all that you must and all that you believe. And if you are really lucky, and do the work, you can experience this middle camp, with the amazing vista as being exactly what it is supposed to be. A respite from all that accumulation. And a time to reset your expectations and prepare for life’s final and most hard lesson: learning how to let go while you are still connected, alive and present. Loving every minute while remembering that letting go is really the only thing we have left to do and all that we endeavor in the intervening years prepares us for the time, our time, to exit this world and move on to whatever comes next.